From The Archives: Teledyne Ryan AQM-91A Drones On USAF/Lockheed DC-130A Transport

Two Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical AQM-91A Compass Arrow high-altitude, long-range drones are cradled beneath the wings of a USAF/Lockheed DC-130A, a drone-carrying variant of the military transport. This image appears on the front cover of May 15, 1972 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

The drones were originally developed for overflights of mainland China at altitudes above the capability of Soviet-built SA-2 surface-to-air missiles deployed there. The General Electric J97-powered drone carries an Itek KA-80A optical bar panoramic camera. These were developed in the late 1960s.

The goal: Capture images of China's Lop Nur nuclear test site in the Gobi Desert. But the program's timing was off: then-President Richard Nixon had called-off overflights of China in mid-1971 as he made secret overtures to Beijing that would lead to his historic breakthrough visit to China in February 1972. The Compass Arrow facing ballooning costs and schedule delays; never became operational, and it was soon surpassed by more U.S. imagery reconnaisance satellites, which could overly China legally. 


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